Archived Posts December 2006 » Page 6 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Denver Bishop Charles Chaput, whom I had the personal joy of meeting and hearing speak a few years ago, gave an address at a mass for Catholic public officials in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just before the November elections. Chaput, who is one of my favorite bishops, makes profound and clear moral sense of chaotic sub-Christian thinking on a regular basis.

“The world does need to change, and in your vocation as public leaders, God is calling you to pursue that task with justice and charity with a love for the common good and a reverence for human life. The world needs committed Catholic laypeople like you to lead with humility, courage and love,” said Bishop Chaput.

Chaput further argued that we often treat important things as a “gloss” so as to soften the meaning of the offensive passage thus making it much easier for us to live. St. Francis wanted to live sine glossa, said Chaput, that is without alibis or excuses.

Chaput rightly argues that modern liberalism has created a kingdom of “the imperial autonomous self” and calls it the will of God (or a goddess). Weird and unexpected alliances are the end result, alliances that make no sense except that they join irreconcilable parties in one group that can then put aside their various differences in order to attack Christ.

The bishop rightly noted that there are three political issues that are non-negotiable for morally serious Christians:

  1. Protecting life

  2. Promoting marriage
  3. Protecting a parent’s rights to educate their children

If we do not make these central to our present human situation we fail at the most basic level to protect the weak and to promote true freedom. I am weary of people asking: “How would Jesus vote?” I much like the idea of posing this question through the thought of St. Francis, a true reformer who lived before we even had anything like 16th century Protestant reformers.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Delta Airlines has rejected a hostile $8.53 billion takeover bid from U.S. Airways, saying that it much prefers to remain independent. But Delta, and a lot of other airlines, might be doing consumers a favor by joining a consolidation push, says Anthony Bradley. “Given the nature of the industry today, proper stewardship of commercial airlines implies reform,” he writes.

Read the commentary here.

Latin America’s Catholic bishops are preparing for a major conference in Brazil next spring and the agenda will include, aside from issues relating directly to the faith, discussions about politics, populism, corruption and economic globalization. Samuel Gregg says the meeting holds great promise: “Few realize it, but May 2007 could be a decisive moment for Catholic Latin America.”

Read the commentary here.

As a former disarmament policy analyst for the Holy See in New York and in Vatican City, I was recently asked to comment on its position on nuclear disarmament by the National Catholic Register; the article can be found here. The reason for raising the issue now was a Nobel laureates’ peace conference in Rome hosted by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The article describes the Holy See’s views as mainly expressed by Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, who also served on the Holy See delegation to several United Nations disarmament meetings. I would like to use this post, however, to expand on some aspects that the article only mentions briefly.

While the Holy See has the official status of a state, it does not pretend to be a state like any other; its status is primarily meant to protect the religious freedom and independence of the pope. So it cannot be said that the Holy See has any kind of political expertise in the disarmament field. After all, it hasn’t had to disarm itself and Vatican City is protected by Italian, NATO and US forces in the area. The Holy See’s mission here is to serve as a moral conscience, not as a political example to other states.

The Holy See seeks to exercise its moral authority in matters of war and peace, offering, over the centuries, its good offices to mediate a peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. But the Holy See’s position is not “pacifist”, i.e. avoiding war at all costs. For the most part, it recognizes the larger moral and strategic aspects of international relations while trying to avoid unnecessary slaughter and destruction.

The NCR article correctly notes that in 1982, Pope John Paul II linked the moral acceptability of deterrence to progress towards nuclear disarmament; this linkage is also the basis for the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet the background for this linkage – the real possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union – is neglected. In fact, most observers (Gorbachev included) now admit that the nuclear arms race contributed to or accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and hence the passing of the threat of a nuclear war between two ideological foes.

When John Paul II granted some moral acceptability to nuclear deterrence, he did so in the face of extreme opposition from European and American pacifists, including some Church leaders who thought the US, UK and France should disarm unilaterally. Incredible as it may seem, the possession of nuclear arms by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was considered a greater threat to peace. Vatican officials, however, were more sensible and aware of the menace posed by the USSR.

The Soviet Union is no more. As a result, the US and Russia did agree to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenals. September 11, 2001 changed strategic calculations, and especially nuclear proliferation concerns. North Korea and Iran are the most worrying of these, but there are many others, including the spread of nuclear materials to terrorist groups. But, once again, the no-nukes movement has decided to make the US the focus of its disarmament rally.

Perhaps this is because most of the nuclear abolitionists live in societies that allow them to criticize their governments openly and freely. There are no North Korean or Iranian equivalents of Senator Roche. In fact, the nature of the political regime should be more worrying than the possession of nuclear weapons. To think about the nature of such regimes is not to automatically praise one’s own over others; rather it is the beginning of political wisdom.

The opposite tendency is to deny all political responsibility and cede such authority to tyrants and terrorists. International relations would then be a field for “realist experts” who shun moral reflection and argue that “anything goes” in war. It would also describe mainstream foreign policy thought in the West.

In our age of moral relativism, it is tempting to say no regime is better any other, but it is also nonsensical. Instead, we need more reflection on what makes a good society and how a good society should carry out its foreign relations. No country can live in splendid isolation from today’s threats, just as no country can ignore today’s globalized economy. In international relations as in other human endeavors, the challenge is carrying out our moral responsibilities without losing our soul.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 5, 2006

“To pander to this world is to fornicate against you,” confesses Augustine to God. The worldly culture of today seems to be trying its best to actualize Augustine’s observation in literal terms. In a recent edition of New York Magazine, Naomi Wolf writes about “The Porn Myth,” and cites David Amsden who says that pornography is now the “wallpaper” of our lives.

Exhibit A in support of Amsden’s thesis is the latest issue of GIANT Magazine, which bills itself as “the ultimate entertainment magazine.” Reviewing all aspects of contemporary pop culture, GIANT offers insights into the latest gadgets, flicks, and fashion. It is generally not as explicitly titillating as pop journals like FHM, Maxim, or Stuff.

In the December/January issue of GIANT, we get the following three items. First, “Obscene of the Crime,” an overview of a government crackdown on Florida pornographers. Aliya S. King reports that in Pensacola, Florida, Clinton Raymond McCowen was part of a trio arrested “on charges of racketeering–conducting a criminal enterprise by engaging in prostitution and the manufacture and sale of obscene material.” King bemoans the priorities of law enforcement, sneering at the priority US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has placed on “not drug trafficking, not white-collar crime, but obscenity.”

Saint Snoop: “America’s Most Lovable Pimp.” Your #1 Source for Pimped Out Parenting Advice.

And just so you know what constitutes the legal difference between pornography and prostitution, Veronica Monet, a porn activist working to decriminalize prostitution, says, “Pornography is when a third party pays two people, presumably actors, to have sex with each other. How it distinguishes itself from prostitution is that he man having sex with the woman didn’t pay that woman. Instead, another person, the producer and/or director of that film, paid both of those people.” King writes that a conviction of McCowen “could begin to tumble that distinction.”

“When the attorney general,” writes King, “decides to focus attention on pornographers and obscenity and establishes a bureaucracy to tackle those objectives, cases will be made.” Lawrence Walters, McCowen’s attorney, says, “They can just pick anyone out of a barrel.” (More on federal action to fight child pornography here, based on photos of minors that are clothed, but include “lascivious poses one would expect to see in an adult magazine.” HT: Constitutionally Correct. The topic of the sexualization of youth in pop culture deserves an entire post of its own.)

Second, in this same issue of GIANT we are graced with an interview with Snoop Dogg (recently arrested after appearing on NBC’s “The Tonight Show”). When asked, “What king of father are you?” to his three kids, Snoop responds: “I don’t do it how normal people do it. I’m a friend more than a father. I’m the kind to let my kids taste champagne at my birthday–they didn’t like it.” Later on GIANT inquires of Snoop, “What have you told your sons about women?” His replies by citing a verse from one of his more famous anthems, “[Women] ain’t $#!@ but hos and tricks.” (He didn’t say whether or not he also teaches his kids the next lines in the song, which are rather more pornographically explicit.)

And finally, this same issue of GIANT features a 10 page spread on female porn stars who have gone from working in front of the camera to working behind it. Tera Patrick, a paragon of entrepreneurial spirit, says, “When I got into the industry, I made millions for everyone else. Now I make them for myself.” The features include vital statistics, such as the number of “sex scenes performed” by each of these “giants of the skin trade.”

Wolf wonders,

does all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.

Pornography is part and parcel of the commoditization of sex, and so perhaps the rather arbitrary line between pornography and prostitution needs to be challenged, or in King’s words, “tumbled.”

Wolf also notes that traditional morality is in fact more socially beneficial than a pornified culture:

In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

Wolf worries, in part, that pornography makes real women seem less appealing by comparison with the illusion of the adult film.

Expat Teacher, writing at Good Will Hinton, responds to Wolf’s essay and says, “I’d like to see Christians acknowledge the ubiquitous of porn and the real pull of that temptation, while offering a positive alternative. Sex with a little mystery and discovery is a lot more fun and interesting than a clinical rut in the hay.”

Well, Expat Teacher, I’m with you. And the work of XXXChurch is a good place to start. We don’t all need to agree on the effectiveness and desirability of all available means to combat the pornification of culture to respect the work of XXXChurch’s ministry (their blog is located here). One of the things XXXChurch is doing is work to get porn stars out of the industry, through what they call the “Esther Fund.”

“There is life after porn,” both for the performers and for the consumers. That’s a pretty good alternative perspective to the one offered by GIANT: victimize or be victimized. For as Augustine also confessed to God, “to be estranged in a spirit of lust, and lost in its darkness, that is what it means to be far away from your face.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 4, 2006

I have reviewed two books for the latest issue of Calvin Theological Journal:

J. William Black, Reformation Pastors: Richard Baxter and the Ideal of the Reformed Pastor (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2004). Appearing in CTJ, vol. 41, no. 2 (November 2006): 370-71.

Peter Golding, Covenant Theology: The Key of Theology in Reformed Thought and Tradition (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2004). Appearing in CTJ, vol. 41, no. 2 (November 2006): 385-88.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 4, 2006

Joe Carter gives us some good context for today:

The fact that many people agree on something does not imply that what they agree on is true, whether the issue is climatology or farm subsidies. An appeal to consensus is merely a form of the argumentum ad populum fallacy (appeal to the majority). The status of the fallacy doesn’t change just because the members of the majority all have Ph.Ds. If you want to establish a consensus for your argument, you have to do more than appeal to a consensus.

What’s this context for? Today’s WSJ includes the text of a letter sent from Sens. Snowe and Rockefeller to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

In the missive, the senators berate ExxonMobil for its support of a “climate change denial confederacy,” which “has exerted an influence out of all proportion to its size or relative scientific credibility.”

But in the face of adversity, there is always the safety of scientific consensus to fall back upon:

While the group of outliers funded by ExxonMobil has had some success in the court of public opinion, it has failed miserably in confusing, much less convincing, the legitimate scientific community. Rather, what has emerged and continues to withstand the carefully crafted denial strategy is an insurmountable scientific consensus on both the problem and causation of climate change.

This related WSJ editorial properly excoriates Snowe and Rockefeller and their letter, which the editorial says is “of a piece with what has become a campaign of intimidation against any global warming dissent.”

UNICEF warns that AIDS is at near epidemic levels in Eastern Europe. One might think that in an age of modern science and enlightened medicine, we might see calls for partner reduction programs and partner notification programs. But, as we know, AIDS activists have blocked any meaningful moves along those lines. Instead we have this:

In Europe, AIDS awareness was raised with religious services and agitprop art…

In Copenhagen, Denmark, artist Jens Galschioet put up an 8-foot sculpture of a crucified pregnant teenager outside Copenhagen’s Lutheran cathedral. He called it a protest against the idea that “God allows nothing but chastity and unprotected sex.”

City authorities gave the artist permission to erect the statue, named “In the Name of God,” outside the cathedral.

Anders Gadegaard, the cathedral’s dean, said, “It’s a good supplement to the crucifix we have inside the church.”

I’m thinking: What are the city authorities thinking? What is the Cathedral’s dean thinking? Does anyone on this blog know whether Lutheran pastors are funded by the taxpayers in Denmark?

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Sunday, December 3, 2006

If we are ever going to make progress in reforming the education system, we have to find ways to appeal to at least some members of the education profession. Often, teachers, administrators and school boards have distinct strategies. If we can appeal to a subset of educators, we have a better chance of success. Put another way, no school reform can possibly succeed, without the support of at least some members of the education establishment.

Here is a story that made my blood boil, as a parent. But it illustrates the point that there may be possibilities for reforms that appeal to at least some educators.

Bong Hits for Jesus was written on the banner produced by a high school student in Alaska. He held it up for the TV cameras when the Olympic Torch passed by. His principal saw the banner, ripped it down and suspended the student for ten days. As parent and an educator and a person of common sense, I applaud the principal for disciplining this kid. Naturally, a lawsuit happened:

(The student) was off school property when he hoisted the banner but was suspended for violating school policy by promoting illegal substances at a school-sanctioned event.

The school board upheld the suspension, and a federal judge initially dismissed Frederick’s lawsuit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the banner was vague and nonsensical, and that Frederick’s civil rights had been violated….

The appeals court said even if the banner could be construed as a positive message about marijuana use, the school could not punish or censor a student’s speech just because it promotes a social message contrary to one the school favors.

And for her trouble, the principal, Deborah Morse, (no relation) may end up facing fines.

The court is expected to hear arguments in the case in late February. In addition to the First Amendment issue, the court also will consider whether Morse can be held personally liable for monetary damages.

Morse, now the district’s coordinator of facilities planning, said, “I think it’s important for school administrators all across the country to have some guidance in how to enforce school rules at school activities without risking liability.”

So here is what some smart conservative advocate of school reform should suggest: come up with legislation giving immunity to school administrators from lawsuits. In any other profession, the professionals are given the room to make judgments and use their discretion. In education, professionals have the courts breathing down their necks, second-guessing their decisions and generally interfering with their ability to do their jobs.
This kid has no civil right to advocate drug use. A 10 day Suspension is not that big of a deal. Kids need to have limits set on their behavior. This adult was trying to do her job.

If conservatives could come up with a legal strategy to protect school boards and administrators from these frivolous lawsuits, it would be VERY attractive to that group of education professionals.

(Cross-posted at my personal blog.)

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Friday, December 1, 2006

John Stossel’s 20/20 show last Wednesday night, “Cheap in America,” asked the tough questions about American generosity. It was an intriguing piece, weaving contrasting arguments for two key conclusions: Bureaucracies, government ones and even big charity ones (national or international), just don’t do as good a job as private, local donors and charities; and (2) Americans are truly more generous than any other people on the planet–no matter their means. Rich and poor alike give generously.

So the “Cheap Americans” slogans making their way around the globe are simply wrong. The well-intended persuaders, even personally generous high-profile Americans, who argue that poverty and disaster relief solutions rest with a bigger portion of the US GNP, demonstrate incomplete information at best, inaccurate at worst.

Stossel interviewed Arthur Brooks, someone I’ve had the pleasure of recently talking with at different charity award events. His new book Who Really Cares, rooted in extensive research of American charity, has made him a high profile voice at a most opportune time of year. He says, “When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30% more. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.” Stereotypes that liberals care more and give more, and that a higher income means increased generosity simply aren’t supported.

So one point is clear, defensible, and should motivate that worthy end-of-year giving: Charity does it better. Private donations are more substantial and yield more positive effects on the givers and receivers than any government effort. Volunteerism, direct involvement with those in need, is extremely powerful and productive.

There’s a second, equally critical point, interestingly not in the sites of the “more government money to fight world poverty” campaigns: effective giving. Give to organizations that transform people’s lives and communities.

Jesus told a parable that emphasized stewardship (Luke 19). Don’t “just give,” with no discernment. Marvin Olasky put practical guidelines on such giving with his 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. Maclellan Foundation’s Marketplace encourages givers to be both intentional and proactive. There are multiple charity evaluation tools, albeit with different emphais and valuation paradigms. Due diligence results in good stewardship.

That’s a good reason to include investigation of local needs; the credibility of the appeals and the organizations are more easily verified. Don’t overlook such community needs amid the high gloss, professionally prepared stack of appeals that have already arrived in your mailbox.

Today’s online Philanthropy News Digest carries a story about high hopes among some charity hospital fundraisers based on current stock market performance. And hospitals that include significant charity services do have valid need. But what about little charities? Linda Czipo, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Corporations in New Brunswick, adds “Not all organizations are going to benefit equally. For small organizations, the impact won’t be as large.”

Individual good stewards can change that proclamation. Giving that is direct, personal, and accountable is the best to give or to receive. Oprah gave her October 30 show audience a chance to prove that. Every member of Oprah’s audience went home with $1,000 and a Sony DVD Handycam with the challenge to “Pay it Forward” to others.…but there was a catch. Oprah challenged more than 300 audience members to donate their money to a charitable cause. Sisters Kristy O’Conner and Kasey Osborne Lumpp were in that audience.

After making some calls, the sisters came upon Atlanta Union Mission and its women and children’s center, My Sister’s House. Once they decided to help the Mission, they took Oprah’s challenge and worked to multiply the effects of their gift. The sisters did not stop with their respective $1,000 contributions. Instead, they asked Q100 for help in getting word out to the community about the needs of Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sisters House. Q100 jumped on board and asked Kroger to be a collection site for donations. In addition, the Mission has been featured every morning on Q100 this week with live interviews with staff, clients, and Kristy and Kasey. They also went to every retailer they could find soliciting donations for the Mission.

And Christmas came early to the women and children at Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sister’s House on November 3 when Kristy and Kasey presented nearly $130,000 worth of gifts and monetary donations they had collected during the previous week.

The president of Atlanta’s Rescue Mission reports that close to a quarter million dollars of inkind and cash gifts have been received as a direct result of the good stewardship of Kristy and Kasey.